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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mon, 2 Mar 2020 06:20:42 -0600
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac


_Mark X: Who Killed Huck Finn's Father?_. By Yasuhiro Takeuchi. Routledge,
2018. Pp. 236. $155.00 Hardcover (2018). $39.95 Softcover (2019). $35.96
ebook. ISBN 978-1-138-61675-2 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-367-24835-2

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by
Kevin Mac Donnell.

Copyright (c) 2020 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Is there room on the shelf for another book about _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_? Hasn't everything been said about Mark Twain's
masterpiece that can be said? And if anything is left to be explored, would
answering the question of who killed Pap Finn be near the top of the list?
Or even on that list? And yet, that is the book we have before us, and it
reminds us that the answers to the first two questions are "yes" and "no,"
and the answer to the second two questions is "no, but it should be."

One of those books on the aforementioned shelf is a slender yellow volume
by Franklin R. Rogers called _Mark Twain's Burlesque Patterns_ (1960), in
which Rogers postulated the notion that _Huckleberry Finn_ was first
conceived as a "burlesque detective story," or, more to the point, a
murder-mystery centered on who killed Huck's father. Rogers studied the
early composition of _Huckleberry Finn_ and demonstrated that in 1876 Twain
was focused on murder mysteries, including them not only in _Huckleberry
Finn_, but in two shorter works he wrote about that same time, _A Murder, a
Mystery, and a Marriage_, and "Simon Wheeler, Detective" (which was both a
play and an aborted novel).

Murder mysteries--fictional ones--can be entertaining. The mystery
surrounding the death of Pap Finn is intriguing. He's found naked in a
house swept by flood waters into the Mississippi River, and the room is
cluttered with sordid clues--some of them revealing and some not. But even
if his murderer is discovered, where would that leave readers of the story?
Besides, by the time Twain finished writing _Huckleberry Finn_, the mystery
of who killed Pap Finn was no longer central to the action and was left
unresolved. Forty seven years after Rogers raised the question, Jon Clinch
published a superb contrapuntal novel that shadows the action in
_Huckleberry Finn_, solving that mystery and establishing Huck's maternity.
But that novel is Clinch's fictional conception of the story, not Twain's.

Takeuchi discusses the work of both Rogers and Clinch, among others, and
offers a plausible resolution to the mystery by the end of his first
chapter, but that's not the end of Takeuchi's enquiry; it's just the
beginning. For Takeuchi, there is the "larger mystery involving the novel's
author--why Twain, all his life, evaded writing about what he had
experienced at the death of his own father" (vii). Takeuchi likens his
investigation to studying a black hole, in which the black hole itself
cannot be seen or directly observed, but can only be detected by studying
the movement of nearby objects and distortions of light around it. We may
never know exactly what young Sam Clemens saw of his father's autopsy, or
the full depth of his ambivalent feelings about his father, but his
writings--both what he wrote and what he didn't write--provide clues, and
Takeuchi sorts them out.

The investigation begins at the murder scene in the floating house. Twain
provides a detailed inventory of the contents of that room. Huck and Jim
take careful note of what is there. Among the items present is a wooden
leg, but they are unsuccessful in their search for its mate. More
seriously, both Huck and Jim fail to notice that Pap's boots are missing.
Huck would have recognized them by the "X" nailed into one heel, the sign
by which he'd known his father was back in town when he saw his footprint
in the snow by a fence stile (a ladder or steps built into a fence). In
fact, they also fail to notice that Pap Finn's clothing seems to be
missing; at least Huck does not recognize any of the clothing in the room
as Pap's. As Takeuchi points out, the critical clues are not what is
present in the room, but what is absent. This observation sets the stage
for some of what will follow in his study: the significance of footprints,
crosses, and absences. Besides _A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage_, and
"Simon Wheeler, Detective," Takeuchi traces these clues in other writings
including a letter Twain wrote to his children as Santa Claus, and "The
Stolen White Elephant." He pieces together these clues and reveals Pap's
murderer. No spoilers here, but the murderer used Pap's clothing as a
disguise, and is exposed by Pap's distinctive boot print.

At this point, those familiar with the tropes, metaphors, themes, and plot
devices that have attracted the most attention from Twain scholars for
decades will see where things might be headed--disguises, gender roles,
crosses, twins, corpses, father-figures, crime and punishment, etc. In
fact, those who have read two books that were published in 2019 alongside
the paperback edition of Takeuchi's book--Jarrod Roark's _Mark Twain at the
Gallows: Crime and Justice in His Western Writing, 1861-1873_, and Ben
Griffin's _Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That
Failed"_-- will find those studies helpful preparation for understanding
Takeuchi's sometimes complex arguments. Crime and justice are a recurring
theme, and the final chapter of this book is on "The Private History of a
Campaign That Failed."

Just as Roark explains Twain's treatments of legal and extra-legal justice,
Takeuchi notes that Twain does not always solve a murder by catching the
murderer. In both _Huckleberry Finn_ and _Tom Sawyer, Detective_, the
corpse of the victim is identified at the end, but not the murderer.
Crosses are a crucial clues to identity in both stories, and so are
footprints. In "The Stolen White Elephant," the footprints being followed
are of the dead elephant, not a murderer, and are still being followed
after the corpse of the elephant has been found. In _A Murder, a Mystery,
and a Marriage_, it is the absence of footprints in the snow around the
unconscious body of the Frenchman that are a clue to a murder. Twain uses
the word "clew" for "clue" implying the double-meaning of a ball of twine
that can be used to trace a path (just like following footprints), a
meaning that Twain makes explicit when a clew is used in the cave to mark a

Studies of twins and doubles in Twain's fiction are exhaustive, and
sometimes exhausting, but Takeuchi takes a new approach, and discusses what
he calls "splitting."  Twain explicitly describes "splitting" in "Three
Thousand Years Among the Microbes," where Huck and Franklin talk about how
two individuals can be combined into a third new individual (or vice
versa). Takeuchi cites Twain's text (46-47) and also cites its parallel in
David Wilson's misunderstood joke about killing his half of a barking dog
(earning him the nickname "Pudd'nhead" by the witless villagers of Dawson's
Landing). He then traces the splitting which is the central theme of "The
Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" where the
narrator battles with his conscience, which has split off into a menacing
creature who mocks him. Takeuchi demonstrates how splits, which are of
course, psychological more often than physical (like the water droplets in
"Three Thousand Years"), are a romantic theme when one individual is split
into two, as in "The Carnival of Crime," and realistic when two halves are
contained in one individual, the normal human condition. Takeuchi points
out that Twain's life was "full of the oneness of opposites. Critics often
discuss the combination of two opposing elements in Twain's self" (53).
Twain's characters often function as two halves of a whole that have been
split apart at some point, or else an individual who is conflicted by the
two halves of his self.

_The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ is explored as an example of an individual
that has been split into two, with Tom's brother Sid functioning as Tom's
irksome conscience, just as the narrator of "The Carnival of Crime" was
pestered by his conscience. Crime and punishment also is split: When Tom is
punished, he splits off his punishment from his crime by tricking others
into white-washing the fence. He even gets two forbidden fruits (apples)
for his effort, first from Ben Rogers, and then from Aunt Polly. But
splitting works in both directions: Tom is also twice punished for crimes
he did not commit--once for ink spilt in a schoolmate's book, and again
when he steps forward to take Becky Thatcher's punishment for the torn page
in another book. There are other injustices: Muff Potter is wrongly accused
of a murder committed by Injun Joe. Joe Harper runs away from home after
being wrongfully accused of stealing cream. He and Tom bond just as do
their grieving mothers who think their boys are dead, each representing
split halves of a whole. Takeuchi describes how Twain's splitting of crime
and punishment in _Tom Sawyer_, and Tom's scapegoating his friends into
performing his punishment for him capsize the Biblical story of original
sin and the forbidden fruit.

Takeuchi also makes a convincing case that Injun Joe is a scapegoat who
functions as one split half of Tom. Both had visited the graveyard in
search of a corpse, but for entirely different reasons, but they are linked
by the murder that takes place there. Until Tom testifies in court, Injun
Joe is the criminal half of Tom, and Tom is the punished half of Injun Joe
(his scapegoat). But after Injun Joe's escape from the court, Tom becomes
the punishing half of Injun Joe (his split conscience). Injun Joe is driven
by his desire for patricidal revenge against a father-figure--hoping to
kill the widow of the dead Judge Douglas, who had humiliated him. Takeuchi
draws parallels with other patricidal themes in Twain's writings: The baby
of Charles Allbright in the famous Raft Episode of _Huckleberry Finn_, Tom
Driscoll in _Pudd'nhead Wilson_ (where fingerprints, like footprints, lead
to the murderer, and twins are split), and Archy Stillman in _A
Double-Barreled Detective Story_ (in which a man who is split, half human
and half dog, tracks down his father). Drawing upon the themes already
traced in other writings, Takeuchi then traces those same themes in
_Huckleberry Finn_, drawing upon previous studies on the Oedipal themes in
the novel.

Takeuchi divides Twain's writing of _Huckleberry Finn_ into three stints,
the first beginning in 1876 when it started as a murder mystery, and the
second and third stints in 1880 and 1883, as Twain struggled with Huck's
conscience and his own. In a later notebook entry from 1897 Twain wrote
that when he split his conscience into a separate person in "The Carnival
of Crime" that he had made a mistake--that his conscience was part of
himself, and Takeuchi declares that this "externalization to
internalization of conscience is the most important marker of the turning
point of Twain's battle with his conscience in the novel" (200). He argues
against Huck's famous "go to Hell" moment as the turning point in the
story, and instead argues that the infamous Evasion Chapters are when Tom
and Huck, split halves, play off each other until Twain makes peace with
his conflicted conscience.

Takeuchi's study concludes with "The Private History of a Campaign That
Failed," in which the death of a stranger represents the death of a father
figure as well as an unsolved murder. The older man who is shot to death by
young men on a hapless adventure turns out to be a father with children,
and the mystery of whose bullet killed this father is left unresolved. This
fictional event that Twain injected into his account of his brief
participation in a state militia at the beginning of the Civil War
parallels the patricidal themes in his other fictional works. The parallel
is obvious between young Sam Clemens who soon heads west to the Nevada
Territory and the young Huck Finn who states his intention to light out for
the Territory.

Some of Takeuchi's observations have been made by others (and are duly
acknowledged), but none have been extended quite this far or linked
together in this way. He weaves some complex interpretations, and whether
every reader will agree with every conclusion, Takeuchi builds his
arguments deliberately and without jargon, and as far out on a limb as it
may seem at times, he never saws on the limb. The result is a book that
offers fresh insights, and deserves its space on that crowded shelf.